Ducks reliever Rob Rogers was always around. He was holding a clipboard and helping out during the team’s preseason open tryout in April, he was walking around the clubhouse getting to know his new coaches and teammates shortly after that, and he was watching every pitch as the Ducks settled themselves into the driver’s seat of the Liberty Division’s first-half championship race.
Rogers has been in almost every part of Bethpage Ballpark in Central Islip this year, except for one — the mound during a game. That changed this week as Rogers was activated for the first time since having Tommy John surgery last June.
“It’s great,” said Rogers, an Islip native. “It’s a lot better knowing you have the potential to play than being on the shelf and not being able to do much once game time starts.”
After getting some big outs in the 2017 postseason, Rogers looked forward to continuing that momentum in 2018. The first month went decently, with Rogers striking out 16 batters in his first 12 innings and pitching to a 3.75 ERA. Then, one night in early June, Rogers threw a slider and his right hand went numb. He knew something was very wrong.
"I knew that I had never felt a pain this bad before in my arm, so I knew it was going to be pretty serious,” he said. “It was like someone would stab me in the elbow when I would release the ball. It was not fun.”
Based on the stories he had heard from teammates, Rogers figured Tommy John would be the recommendation. So, he was hardly surprised when doctors delivered the news and he went under the knife on June 13, 2018.
“For the first day or two after you get the news, you’re going to not be too happy about it and you’re going to dwell on it,” Rogers said. “But, you have to come to terms with what’s going to happen, where you want to get to, and think about the long-range effects of doing all the physical therapy correctly and being able to use your arm for the rest of your life, not just one season . . . [You want to] be able to have an arm when you grow up and not have long-term problems.”
So, Rogers began his first summer without baseball in recent memory. He rehabbed three times a week in East Islip, caught up on a lot of television, watched the World Cup religiously, and spent time with his family.
“That was one of the few good points about being hurt, I got to have my summer for the first time, do stuff with the family, and be around more than I usually would be,” said Rogers, who spent four years in the Dodgers organization before joining the Ducks in 2017. “That was kind of nice. That was the one thing that was nice.”
Rogers started playing catch from 35-50 feet at the beginning of January, just lobbing the ball, and slowly getting his strength back from there. Which led him to Wednesday night, his first game as an active member of the Ducks in more than a year.
The Ducks, who entering Friday still had not used Rogers, will bring him along slowly. Manager Wally Backman has a wealth of experience guiding pitchers back from Tommy John and has a set plan for how he will use Rogers.
“He will not pitch any back-to-back days in the first month,” Backman said. “For the first month, we’re going to have a 25-pitch limit, he’ll pitch possibly every other day but no back-to-back days.”
With three weeks to go in the first half and the Ducks holding on to a 2 ½ game lead at the beginning of the weekend and on the verge of a potential automatic playoff spot, Backman is certainly happy to have another arm in the bullpen, even if it’s not on a full-steam-ahead basis yet.
“Rogers has worked extremely hard from all the information that I’ve gotten,” Backman said. “He’s thrown some live BP and I’ve seen his velocity and movement on his pitches. He’s got a good breaking ball.”
Rogers can’t wait to help the Ducks win games as the summer moves along. It’s something the Ducks have done a lot of already. They entered the weekend with the best record in the league.
“This team is relentless,” Rogers said. “They keep hitting. Their lineup is solid from one to nine. There is no real soft spots at all and we keep the pressure on [opponents] the entire game. It usually seems like we’re the better team. Teams crack and we don’t, which is nice.”
THEY FLEW THE COOP
Seven 2019 Ducks have been picked up by MLB organizations so far this season:
P Sean Nolin - Tacoma (AAA), Mariners
P George Kontos - Fresno (AAA), Nationals
P Jose Cuas - Hillsboro (A), Diamondbacks
P Tim Adleman - Toledo (AAA), Tigers
P Tim Melville - Albuquerque (AAA), Rockies
P Jon Niese - Tacoma (AAA), Mariners
INF Ivan De Jesus Jr. - Charlotte (AAA), White Sox